PANAMA by Thomas MeGuane


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This novel's first sentence goes: ""This is the first time I've worked without a net."" Could have fooled us. McGuane seems generously backed-up here by his previous book, 92 In the Shade, of which this is a pretty straight-up rewrite--with sticky remorse added. Same Key West. Same rich, leisured, wise-ass, sentimental male hero--here, Chet Pomeroy, an Alice Cooper-type rock-star/freak on the skids, courting breakdown with a guilt so specious it seems more like eczema. Same weird collection of marginally sane characters who populate whole pages for the seeming sake of uttering outrageous sentences. Chet, now a ""flop"" albeit a rich one, yearns for his estranged wife Catherine, who's had enough of his escapades and publicity; he seeks that original moment of marital innocence which he connects with Panama, where they were married. To get her back is his approximate goal--approximate since Chet's the kind of fella who forgets what he did an hour ago, who insists that his father is dead even when the gentleman shows up before his very eyes. Chet's disarray is supposed to be lead horn, while screwed-up modern American society plays rhythm--but the standard McGuane hero, tiresome in his predictability, is hard to relate to, even harder to feel sorry for. No milk of human kindness ever touches his lips: ""Fundamentally, though, my stepmother is a problem because she is disgusting."" Or: ""Mad fuck-ups running to their newspapers and greasy dinners surged around my cut-rate beneficence."" What's happened to McGuane's shallow but snappy style? ""I was beginning to sense that the night had written a check the daylight couldn't cash."" Suffering and snideness just don't meld; the gestures creak and the jokes are mean.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux